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Bridge Over Troubled Water: The Eads Bridge

DID YOU KNOW? The Eads Bridge Was Originally Supposed To Have Statues On It?

In a bid to over throw the railroad and vehicle industry, the steamboats dominating the river and commerce industry demanded nearly impossible height restrictions on bridges over the Mississippi River.

This, in addition to, turbulent river currents, natural height restrictions between the east and west shores, and deep underwater bedrock, compelled James Buchanan Eads to design a bridge with the first major use of structural alloy steel.

Construction of building the bridge was near $10 million ($220 million-2019) causing massive debt and led up to the largest bank failure in the United States at that time. During construction fifteen workers died, two other workers were permanently disabled, and 77 were severely afflicted. Eads, himself, went to France to recover from the strain and nervous exhaustion, where he eventually figured out the way to build it.

He once said: "Must we admit that, because a thing has never been done, it never can be, when our knowledge and judgment assures us it is entirely practical."

In an attempt to test the superstition that elephants had instincts that would make them avoid setting foot on unsafe structures, on June 14, 1874, John Robinson led a "test elephant" across the bridge to prove that it was safe. A big crowd cheered as the elephant from a traveling circus crossed over to Illinois. Two weeks later, after completion, 14 locomotives carrying water and coal crossed the bridge to prove its stability. The opening day celebration on July 4, 1874, featured a parade that stretched for 15 miles through the streets of St. Louis.


Originally intended to include statues, the bridge threw the bank into bankruptcy,

The 25 statues were later placed on the top of the "Palace of Insurance", the St. Louis Mutual Life Insurance Building at 6th & Locust (NW) and built in 1872. They were later removed by Equitable Life Insurance Company around 1884 when the company added 5 floors to the building. The entire building was demolished in 1956.

Famed railroad financier, Jay Gould, had offices in the Equitable building and recognized the artistic value of the sculptures. Gould sought to preserve them, but was unable to find a St. Louis institution willing to accept them.

Over a hundred years later, three statues were later found on the grounds of a 19th century estate in Ironton, Missouri.


During the mid-west race for dominence in 1874, pitting it against rival cities like Chicago, the opening of the Eads Bridge propelled the business industry of St. Louis. By the mid 1870s, 6th & Washington Avenue was at the epicenter of a Wholesale dry Goods Hub. St. Louis boasted having twice as many dry goods workers than Chicago, and almost as much as New York.


When Eads built the bridge he said there was no natural force that could tear it down; and that it would stand as long as the pyramids or another 2,000 years. Years later, the "tornado proof” bridge was partially destroyed in tornado of 1896.

[Photo: Missouri History Museum/ Wikimedia Commons]


The bridge had lost all passenger rail traffic to the vehicle industry and the MacArthur Bridge by the time of Amtrak, and is now only used by the Metrolink.

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